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Measles Outbreak Inevitable

Kyiv, Ukraine - May 22, 2008

A warning was issued today that major outbreaks of measles and rubella will be unavoidable in Ukraine if there is a long delay in a campaign to eliminate the viruses.

This was one of the conclusions of international medical experts assessing the new developments after the suspension on the mass immunization campaign scheduled for 26th of May – 9th June in Ukraine. The decision to suspend campaign was made following the media reports on alleged vaccine-related death of a 17 y.o. boy in Donetsk last week.

In 2005 - 2006 Ukraine experienced large outbreaks of measles, infecting over 50,000 young people, resulting in seven reported deaths and accounting for 80 per cent of measles cases in Europe.  Over 20,000 young Ukrainians contract rubella annually and a large outbreak of over 100,000 cases occurred in 2002, and serious birth defects.

The experts are:

1. Dr Dina Pfeifer - Medical Officer, WHO Headquarters, Geneva
Specialist on adverse effects following immunization

2. Mr Eric Laurent - Technical Officer, WHO European Office, Copenhagen
Specialist in communicable and vaccine preventable diseases

3. Dr. Dragoslav Popovic – Regional immunisation specialist for Eastern and Central Europe

WHO, UNICEF and CDC regret the suspension of the national measles and rubella vaccination campaign.  The decision will have long term implications not only for the measles and rubella campaign but for routine immunization coverage, resulting in the potential for outbreaks of other infectious diseases.   

Measles and rubella are highly contagious infections and can lead to severe complications, birth defects and death. The global health partners urge the Government to reaffirm its commitment to the WHO strategy to eliminate measles and rubella in Europe by 2010.

The Government’s decision to suspend the vaccination campaign was in response to the recent tragic death of a 17 year old boy in Kramatorsk. Although a special commission of the Ministry of Health is still investigating the case, the Minister of Health stated that preliminary results provide no evidence of vaccination causing this unfortunate death. WHO, UNICEF and CDC regret that the decision to suspend the campaign and withdraw vaccines from use was made prior to the receipt of the official results of the investigation.

WHO, UNICEF and CDC reiterate that the measles and rubella vaccine used in Ukraine is pre-qualified by WHO and produced in accordance with the highest international standards by the Serum Institute of India, the largest producer of measles and rubella vaccine globally.  Two out of three children in the world are immunized against measles with vaccine from this manufacturer.  This measles - rubella vaccine has an excellent track record and has been successfully used in countries across Europe and CIS immunizing over 34 million young people.  The rubella vaccine from the same manufacturer has been used in Ukraine since 2002, successfully vaccinating over 1.3 million people.

The Global partners urge the Government to complete and make public its investigation into the boy’s death in order to restore public trust in immunization. Immunization is an important public health intervention that ensures the fundamental human right to survival and protection from infectious diseases. WHO, UNICEF and CDC would like to reassure the Government of Ukraine and the citizens of Ukraine of their full support in managing this situation, and strongly encourage health officials to handle this difficult situation in a transparent manner as to best serve the interests of the health of Ukrainian people.


 

 

 
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